The Fleischmann’s Vinegar factory is still polluting the Jones Falls with low levels of acidic runoff, a new inspection report obtained by The Brew discloses.
The North Baltimore factory has been cited by the state for four violations of clean water regulations. The Maryland Department of the Environment could assess cash penalties for each day that a violation continues.
So far, however, no fines have been leveled against the California-based Fleischmann’s or its parent company, Ireland-headquartered Kerry Group.
MDE spokesman Jay Apperson says that “continued non-compliance can increase the amount of any financial penalty that might be assessed.”
Last September, chlorine discharges from the factory led to a major fish kill in the Jones Falls.
Hundreds of dead fish were discovered floating downstream near the Light Rail Station at West Cold Spring Lane.
The kill was reported to authorities by the watchdog environmental group, Blue Water Baltimore, then confirmed by inspectors from the U.S. Coast Guard and MDE.
The incident was caused by the company’s failure to refill the sulfur dioxide tanks that treat wastewater for a period of over 50 days. The out-of-service system allowed 4-1/2 times the legal limit of chlorine to enter the stream.
While inspecting the site after the fish kill, MDE discovered something else that had eluded its inspectors and (according to plant manager Angela Campbell) Fleischmann’s for years:
Illegal tie-ins from the factory to Baltimore City storm drains that empty into the Jones Fall.
The company has since capped several tie-ins, but a November 29 inspection found two additional discharges.
One was coming out of a building wall and leaking into the Jones Falls. The other came from a corroded storm drain outlet found downsteam of the facility.
Stream water sampled under the building wall found a pH of 4.62 and near the storm outlet a pH of 3.65.
A healthy range of pH in freshwater streams is between 7.0 and 9.0. When pH drops below 5.0, fish are stressed and begin to die.
MDE did not note any dead fish in its latest three-page inspection report.
Nevertheless, it called on Fleischmann’s to “immediately” determine the location of the tie-ins to the storm drain and “to provide MDE all spill location and information for any spills that have taken place in the area.”
Illegal tie-ins from private sewer lines to public storm drains have been a problem that has bedeviled Baltimore for years.
Especially along the Jones Falls, a site of intense industrial activity since the early 19th century, many tie-ins have been detected – and many have not.
After the September fish kill, the Baltimore Department of Public Works said that at least one storm drain, dating back to the 1950s, was located under the Fleischmann’s plant.
The company said it has shut down a section of production and a cooling tower that was leaking wastewater into the storm drain. It also said it capped a factory floor drain connected to the pipe.
Regarding the dechlorination treatment system whose outage directly caused the September fish kill, Fleischmann’s said it is “currently overhauling” the system so chlorine levels don’t exceed state limits.
MDE found that Fleischmann’s was discharging an average of 643,000 gallons of wastewater daily into the Jones Falls in 2020 and 2021.
That’s more than double its permitted discharge of 295,000 daily gallons.
The company did not submit a permit modification to MDE that would allow such a high release.
“The facility was required to submit permit coverage by January 1, 2021, and has not submitted an application for coverage at this time,” says the latest inspection report.